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Waratahs v Crusaders: All Blacks need Sevu Reece, Tahs’ backrow can be special

By Finn Morton
Sevu Reece of the Crusaders makes a break away during the round eight Super Rugby Pacific match between NSW Waratahs and Crusaders at Allianz Stadium, on April 12, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

It came right down to the wire. Both teams gave it their absolute all during an 83-minute battle at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium, but in the end the boot of replacement Will Harrison decided the contest with the Waratahs winning 43-40.

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Crusaders wing Sevu Reece stole the show early with a try inside the opening minute, and the All Black added another five-pointer to the score about eight minutes later. But don’t let those efforts fool you – the Waratahs hit back practically every single time.

The visitors thought they’d snatched it with a try at the death, but there were still a couple of seconds left on the clock, and that’s all the Waratahs needed to send it to golden point.

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Will Harrison was the hero in regulation with a long-range penalty with the final play and backed that up with another famous effort during extra-time with a drop goal from close range.

What a game. Here are some takeaways.

The All Blacks need Sevu Reece’s X-factor

Sevu Reece hasn’t played for the All Blacks in more than 520 days. Reece scored a try against the Brave Blossoms in Japan in 2022 and was rewarded with another start on the right wing against Wales at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium one week later.

But if Friday night’s clash with the Waratahs showed fans anything it’s that Sevu Reece is an x-factor the All Blacks can’t afford to look past. The winger is just that uniquely talented.

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Reece, now 27, was an All Blacks regular and the Fiji-born talent appeared set to go to the Rugby World Cup the following year. But an unfortunate injury suffered against the Blues in 2023 brought an end to that dream.

Will Jordan, Mark Tele’a, Emoni Narawa, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Caleb Clarke were seen as New Zealand’s premier wingers in the middle of last year. All went on to play at the sport’s showpiece event in France while Reece continued to chip away at his rehab.

But with Jordan injured and Fainga’anuku now unavailable for selection after signing with Toulon in France, it’s about time All Blacks fans remember the name ‘Sevu Reece.’ The Crusader has shown enough this season already which warrants a return to the test arena.

While the Crusaders struggled at the start of the season, Reece shone. The shining light scored four tries in three matches to start the season, including an eye-catching double against the NSW Waratahs at Melbourne’s AAMI Park.

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Reece’s form took a bit of a hit during the next few matches as the Crusaders continued to search for a drought-breaking win. That win came in round six against the Chiefs at home, but the winger’s statement performance came after the bye in Sydney.

During the first half alone, Reece scored a sensational double which included the opening try after about 54 seconds. But the All Black’s second try was stunning, with the speedster running out Wallaby-in-waiting Max Jorgensen with a vicious bump.

Reece also played a role in Dallas McLeod’s try midway through the half. By the time the teams went into the sheds at the break, Reece had run for more than 80 metres, made three linebreaks, beaten four defenders and carried the ball seven times.

If that’s not All Blacks quality, then what it?

It was a great game but these aren’t two great teams

It was almost poetic that 10 years on from the Waratahs’ famous Super Rugby final win over the Crusaders in Sydney that this match would come down to the wire

Fans from both teams were left biting their fingernails and sitting on the edge of their seats as the clock ticked closer and closer to the 80-minute mark.

This match already had a bit of a finals feel to it with the Waratahs’ and Crusaders’ seasons already hanging by a thread. It was a match they needed to win in the hunt for a playoff spot.

The Crusaders struck first but the Waratahs had an answer. Those first five minutes set the tone for what was to come at Sydney’s Allianz Stadium.

Sevu Reece crossed for his second try of the night in the ninth minute, and Waratahs flyhalf Tane Edmed hit back with two penalty goals. Then the Crusaders scored, followed by the Waratahs, and that repeated once more before the half was done.

Match Summary

4
Penalty Goals
3
4
Tries
5
4
Conversions
3
1
Drop Goals
0
119
Carries
127
6
Line Breaks
6
15
Turnovers Lost
13
5
Turnovers Won
6

23-22 in favour of the Waratahs is how the scoreboard read going into the break.

It was a classic contest that was eventually decided by a Will Harrison drop goal in extra time. It’s the Waratahs’ second win of the season and their second over the Crusaders as well.

While the 43-40 scoreline reads for something special – and it was an incredibly entertaining contest – neither team has consistently proven themselves to be anywhere close to ‘great’ status.

Compared to other sides in Super Rugby Pacific, they’re well off the mark.

They showed they can both score points which makes for a thriller, but the heavy points against should be a concern. Both teams let the other score soft tries throughout this 80-minute war.

You can’t be doing that if you want to be winning trophies.

Waratahs’ backrow can be something special

For the first time this season, Lachlan Swinton, Charlie Gamble and Langi Gleeson were all named to start in the Waratahs’ backrow. Other than the surprise omission of wing Mark Nawaqanitawase, this loosie combo was the big talking point for the Tahs this week.

With 22-year-old Gleeson at the back of the scrum, joined by Wallaby Swinton and Wallabies-candidate Gamble on the flanks, this headline-grabbing trio has the potential to develop into a really special.

The Waratahs conceded early which didn’t bode well. There was a palpable feeling of concern that seemed to fill Sydney’s Allianz Stadium – but the Waratahs hit back in style.

In the fourth minute, Lachlan Swinton ran a dummy line as the Tahs looked to spread their attack out wide. Charlie Gamble carried the ball into the Crusaders’ rock-solid defence with the next carry, and Swinton backed that up with a similar effort in the following phase.

With Gleeson also popping up with some impactful work at the breakdown, the backrow trio were making their presence felt early, and eventually, it paid off. Winger Dylan Pietsch ran through a gap before sending Swinton over for the opening score with a simple draw-and-pass.

Midway through the first 40, it was Gleeson’s turn to send the crowd into a frenzy. For a second or two, Gleeson looked to be on the way to the house with a half-break in the 18th minute. The Wallaby was tackled and the crisis was averted for the visitors, but the impact was still there.

The Waratahs’ backrow looked good.

Gleeson led the way for the Waratahs with the number of tackles made for most of the night. Swinton and Gamble were also busy on the defensive side of the ball but did the majority of their work when the hosts had front-foot ball and some momentum.

This combination could be something special for the Waratahs. Swinton, Gamble and Gleeson are all exciting talents, and if the Waratahs are to turn their season around in 2024, then this trio will need to play a big role in that.

As an honourable mention, while not playing in the loose forwards at the moment, Wallaby Jed Holloway was superb before leaving the field as a replacement midway through the second term.

Ethan Blackadder was good without being great

It’s been a long time coming for Ethan Blackadder, but finally, the All Black was back in the mix for the Crusaders for the first time this season.

Blackadder’s inclusion in the Crusaders’ starting lineup this week was a popular one. Fans on social media were looking forward to seeing how he’d go, and All Blacks selectors would’ve been equally as excited to see how the talented backrower would fare.

The New Zealander was replaced early in the second half, and while there were a couple of moments to note, Blackadder was simply good without being great. But that’s not to say that he wouldn’t have ticked a few All Blacks boxes against the Waratahs.

Waratahs and Crusaders fans alike let out a bit of a cheer as Blackadder had his first carry in space during the opening 40. It wasn’t anything major, but it was a carry nonetheless.

Other than that, most of Blackadder’s work was done in tight. Blackadder finished with 10 tackles – the second-most out of any Crusaders player when he was replaced – and also ran the ball eight times.

But again, Blackadder would’ve done enough to at least put a smile on All Blacks coach Scott Robertson’s face. The backrower did what his team needed him to.

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D
Diarmid 10 hours ago
Players and referees must cut out worrying trend in rugby – Andy Goode

The guy had just beasted himself in a scrum and the blood hadn't yet returned to his head when he was pushed into a team mate. He took his weight off his left foot precisely at the moment he was shoved and dropped to the floor when seemingly trying to avoid stepping on Hyron Andrews’ foot. I don't think he was trying to milk a penalty, I think he was knackered but still switched on enough to avoid planting 120kgs on the dorsum of his second row’s foot. To effectively “police” such incidents with a (noble) view to eradicating play acting in rugby, yet more video would need to be reviewed in real time, which is not in the interest of the game as a sporting spectacle. I would far rather see Farrell penalised for interfering with the refereeing of the game. Perhaps he was right to be frustrated, he was much closer to the action than the only camera angle I've seen, however his vocal objection to Rodd’s falling over doesn't legitimately fall into the captain's role as the mouthpiece of his team - he should have kept his frustration to himself, that's one of the pillars of rugby union. I appreciate that he was within his rights to communicate with the referee as captain but he didn't do this, he moaned and attempted to sway the decision by directing his complaint to the player rather than the ref. Rugby needs to look closely at the message it wants to send to young players and amateur grassroots rugby. The best way to do this would be to apply the laws as they are written and edit them where the written laws no longer apply. If this means deleting laws such as ‘the put in to the scrum must be straight”, so be it. Likewise, if it is no longer necessary to respect the referee’s decision without questioning it or pre-emptively attempting to sway it (including by diving or by shouting and gesticulating) then this behaviour should be embraced (and commercialised). Otherwise any reference to respecting the referee should be deleted from the laws. You have to start somewhere to maintain the values of rugby and the best place to start would be giving a penalty and a warning against the offending player, followed by a yellow card the next time. People like Farrell would rapidly learn to keep quiet and let their skills do the talking.

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